Luther Allison: Life Is a Bitch

Rating: 4.2/10
Rated as: Album
Album Status: for Fans
Released: 1984
Specific Genres: Soul Blues, Electric Blues
Main Genre: Blues
Undertones: Blues Rock, Chicago Blues
Label: Encore !

1 Backtrack 2 Life Is a Bitch 3 Reaching Out 4 Parking Lot 5 Serious 6 Just Memories 7 Should I Wait 8 Let’s Try it Again 9 We’re on the Road

Same old nightclub, same old show

I tend to rate blues records in answer to the question: Why should I listen to this specific record now, as opposed to any given other one by that (or a similar) artist? Are the vocals especially expressive? Is the guitar more stunning/subtle/powerful/soulful than elsewhere? Does it have just that one fabulous song? Is it historically comprehensive (compilations)? Is it a turning point (good or bad) for the artist? And so on.

While the material here is a well-done mix of blues, rock and soul (check out the Redding-esque „Just Memories“, thoroughly screwed up by a lounge saxophone solo) with the echo-y clean touches of a 1980s production (never good for blues in my opinion, but be my guest), I find no answer to any of the questions above. Allison here is most convincing when he leaves the goofy „band-on-the-road“-concept permeating the album as well as the period-pleasing boogie blues rock behind and leans heavily into his trademark soulful blues guitar – this easily makes the slow blues burner „Let’s Try It Again“ the best track but of course can’t save the whole affair.

P.S. This was originally recorded and issued in France (Encore!Mélodie) and many later issues come with „Show Me a Reason“ as additional track B3 (8), which is also on the otherwise identical US-re-issue called Serious. The CD usually comes with yet another additional ending track called „Funky T-Shirt“.

Texas Alexander: Complete Recordings in Chronological Order, Volume 1 (1927–1928)

Rating: 7.8/10
Rated as: Collection
Compilation Status: Essential
Released: 1995
Recorded: 1927–1928
Specific Genre: Acoustic Texas Blues
Main Genres: Acoustic Blues, Blues
Undertones: Work Songs, Field Holler
Label: Document Records

1 Range in My Kitchen Blues 2 Long Lonesome Day Blues 3 Corn-Bread Blues 4 Section Gang Blues 5 Levee Camp Moan Blues 6 Mama, I Heard You Brought It Right Back Home 7 Farm Hand Blues 8 Evil Women Blues 9 Sabine River Blues 10 Death Bed Blues 11 Yellow Girl Blues 12 West Texas Blues 13 Bantam Rooster Blues (Take A) 14 Bantam Rooster Blues (Take B) 15 Deep Blue Sea Blues 16 No More Women Blues 17 Don’t You Wish Your Baby Was Built Up Like Mine? 18 Bell Cow Blues 19 Sittin‘ on a Log 20 Mama’s Bad Luck Child 21 Boe Hog Blues 22 Work Ox Blues 23 The Risin‘ Sun

Don’t get mad at me, woman, because I stays by myself

With a soaring holler, a vocal presence that is imposing even when he seems to murmur rather than belt something, blind Alger „Texas“ Alexander is one of the more fascinating obscure blues masters. He was so early in the game, in fact, that these recordings hardly can contain the field-holler and work song environment he was dragged from into the studios. Alexander barely follows predictable patterns in his singing, skipping bars and always preferring winding, tempo-shifting delivery of his stanzas and interjections over what the instrumentalists are anticipating – often, he just resorts to powerful, vibrating humming to end a song or glide through the mid-section.

This makes the guitar-accompanied songs here much more enjoyable, as the always superior Lonnie Johnson can work around Alexander’s rhythmic idiosyncrasies to a much better degree (using free form lick clusters, really, especially on „Levee Camp Moan Blues“) than pianist Eddie Heywood, who mostly sticks to vaudevillian barrelhouse patterns on track A6–B1 (6–9). Texas Alexander presents some astonishingly moaning, soaring blues, and while these recordings are less polished and accomplished than the not unsimilar Blind Willie Johnson, as the first third of his complete recordings, this Document Records LP is just that: a document to the blues and its power.

Various Artists: Warming by the Devil’s Fire [Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues]

Various Artists - Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: Warming by the Devil's Fire

Rating: 8.0/10
Rated as: Genre-Sampler, Soundtrack
Compilation Status: Historically Informative
Released: 2003
Recorded:1924–1966
Main Genre: Blues
Specific Genres: Electric Blues, Acoustic Blues, Vaudeville Blues, Gospel Blues, Spirituals
Label: Columbia / Legacy

1 Jelly Roll Morton – Turtle Twist 2 Ma Rainey – See See Rider 3 Son House – Death Letter 4 Billie Holiday – I’m a Fool to Want You 5 Mississippi John Hurt – Big Leg Blues 6 Memphis Jug Band – K.C. Moan 7 Robert Johnson – Sweet Home Chicago 8 Tommy McClennan – Deep Blue Sea Blues 9 Bessie Smith – Muddy Water 10 Sonny Boy Williamson II – Cross My Heart 11 Elmore James – Dust My Broom 12 Muddy Waters – You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had 13 W. C. Handy – Beale Street Blues 14 Charley Patton – Hang It on the Wall 15 Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Up Above My Head (I Hear Music in the Air) 16 Stephen James Taylor – Give Me Freedom 17 Mildred Jones – Mr. Thrill 18 John Lee Hooker – I’ll Never Get Out of These Blues Alive

Headed homebound just once more, to my Mississippi Delta home

Even among his largely very good Martin Scorsese presents the Blues series, Warming by the Devil’s Fire is a standout blues compilation. Some hidden classics, some shining obscurities, great sequencing. This puts you right in the Mississippi Delta. The compilation isn’t exclusively about the big guys and girls of blues, although besides some unadventurous standards (from Elmore James, Ma Rainey or Son House), director Charles Burnett (no relation to T-Bone Burnett) picks some not too obvious tracks by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker etc. – and the stunning, earthy, non-vaudeville Bessie Smith-track „Muddy Water“, one of her most stellar numbers. While these evergreens help to form a historically informed sort of listening canon, for the blues aficionado, the stress is on the less overly exposed tracks: check out Tommy McClennan howling to the deep blue sea, the completely obscure Stephen James Taylor conjuring an ominous, mesmerizing gospel blues, the legendary Charley Patton crashing the party with his cragged guitar and Sister Rosetta Tharpe forcing the whole congregation into crazed dancing right around that devil’s fire with a hollering gospel-blues duet.

In this almost binary choice between standards and obscurities lies the competence of the compilation: It’s like a broad summyary over blues history with occasional swoops into the weird forgotten details. The music goes from swinging New Orleans pieces in the ragtime channel to rural acoustic delta blues to the great female vaudeville blues/jazz vocalists that emerged in the 1920s, features some urban electric blues examples to conclude the development, and also presents some excellent gospel-flavoured blues, mostly from the 1930s to 1940s, yet stretching into the urban 1950s and -60s. The sequencing is chronologically accurate enough to teach you a little implicit lesson of music history, but it never feels stubborn. The diversity is just right for repeated listening while rowing up the Mississippi.

As even the most common blues fan will know most or all of these artists already, it’s nonetheless a great introduction disc for your niece or nephew.